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Searles, John 1968(?)-

Searles, John 1968(?)-

PERSONAL:

Born c. 1968. Education: Connecticut State University, graduated; New York University, master's degree.

CAREER:

Writer and editor. Cosmopolitan, New York, NY, senior book editor; also read fiction submissions for Redbook; worked as a factory worker, stock boy, and telemarketer before attending college and waited on tables after graduate school.

WRITINGS:

Cosmopolitan Bedside Quiz Book: Get the Real Deal on the Inner You, the Secret Him, the Truth about Your Friends, and Everything Else You Ever Wanted to Know about Love, Life, and Lust, Hearst Books (New York, NY), 1999.

Boy Still Missing (novel), Morrow (New York, NY), 2001.

Strange but True (novel), Morrow (New York, NY), 2004.

Contributor to periodicals, including Mademoiselle and Out.

ADAPTATIONS:

Boy Still Missing has been optioned for a film.

SIDELIGHTS:

As a senior book editor for Cosmopolitan magazine, John Searles is very familiar with current literary trends. This knowledge undoubtedly contributed to the success of his novel Boy Still Missing. The book attracted considerable attention before it even reached bookstore shelves. Advance publicity included praise by novelists Wally Lamb and Frank McCourt, and the book's movie rights had already been purchased. The story is about a teenage boy struggling to deal with his father's alcoholism and promiscuity, his mother's death following an attempt to give herself an abortion, and his own first sexual and romantic experiences. The book was widely reviewed and received a wide range of responses from critics. With its treatment of complex social issues and quickly shifting plot, it struck some reviewers as a failed attempt at serious literature, while others called it entertaining and thought-provoking.

Searles studied writing as an undergraduate, having dropped business studies after the diabetes-related death of one of his younger sisters. After earning a master's degree at New York University, he worked as a waiter before freelancing as a fiction reader for Redbook and then Cosmopolitan. According to Searles, who is quoted in a Washington Post article by Lydia Millet, he at first felt out of place among the glamorous "Cosmo girls" who were his co-workers and was unfamiliar with the reputation of publisher Helen Gurley Brown, his new boss. However, he was soon enamored of Brown, whom he met when she was a sexy seventy-something, and was impressed by her clothes, energy, and interest in her employees. Searles wrote that it took some time to adjust to working and writing according to her guidelines, but that he ultimately discovered "there is a Cosmo girl inside everybody. Even a boy like me."

Boy Still Missing was penned while Searles worked at Cosmopolitan; he used a four-month leave of absence to complete the work. The author told BookSense.com interviewer Linda M. Castellitto that his job had given him a new appreciation for the "commercial thriller" after having looked down on such books. "It taught me the value of keeping the reader entertained, not just writing for myself with all my pretty descriptions," he explained. He also credits two mentors with encouraging him to continue writing after his first novel was rejected. College professor Ann Hood continued to guide him and was instrumental in his meeting novelist Wally Lamb, who offered to read his work and then recommended Searles to his agent.

Publisher William Morrow accepted Boy Still Missing on the strength of Searles's first 120 pages, which introduce sixteen-year-old Dominick Pindle and his dramatic coming-of-age story. Set in the 1970s in a dull New England town, the novel opens with Dominick and his mother on their habitual Saturday night search for his father in the local bars. On one of these nights, Dominick meets his father's current mistress and develops a crush on the beautiful woman. The father ends the relationship even though the woman is pregnant with his child, prompting Dominick to steal his mother's life savings for her. When his mother also discovers herself to be pregnant—not by Dominick's father—she does not have enough money for a safe, if illegal, abortion. She tries to terminate the pregnancy herself and dies in the attempt. Guilt-ridden, Dominick travels to New York City in search of his half-brother. He decides to hold the child hostage in a motel room, hoping to persuade the news media to investigate his mother's death. During this attempt, he meets and falls in love with a girl named Jeanny.

Reviews of Boy Still Missing ranged from decidedly negative to strongly positive. In an article for Library Journal, Nancy Pearl considered the plot to be "overly complicated" and warned that "the book ends as it begins, in a flurry of unconvincing events." Critical of overdone "stage directions and commercial-fiction painting," Walter Kirn described the novel in Time as "an action-packed tale but light in every other way, although its tone can be very, very heavy."

For several reviewers Boy Still Missing had considerable appeal, even when it was not considered a total success. Entertainment Weekly critic Daniel Fierman was dazzled by the first part of the novel and disappointed by the plot's development after the mother's death. He commented: "As the plot spins into absurdity … you'll feel so betrayed you'll almost want to skip his next book. Almost." In the Washington Post, Lydia Millet judged that "fans of easy-to-read, bestselling dramas about families in the grips of crises … will probably enjoy it." She further felt that Searles' novel falls short of "literary" status, but credited it with a "carefully constructed narrative arc" and "the odd moment of welcome grittiness." A Publishers Weekly reviewer predicted that some readers will object to the author's pro-choice stance, but that "many more … will find his story of hard choices, bleak times and unwilling kidnappers captivating indeed."

More enthusiastic reviewers valued Searles's ability to involve the reader in Dominick's troubles. In the New York Times Book Review, Peter Khoury praised Searles's evocation of "quotidian details of an adolescent boy's life." Khoury remarked: "Although sometimes farfetched, the narrative is often riveting and is laced with insight about choice, fate and luck." Convinced that Searles is "clearly talented," Booklist contributor John Green wrote that the new novelist "builds suspense and excitement with surprising turns of plot weaving back into one another." In a review for People, Laura Jamison called Searles "an impressively assured new voice" and advised that while "the story line is straight out of a thriller … the novel always stays centered on a decent kid's struggle to understand himself and his own ever expanding heart."

In his novel Strange but True, Searle tells the story of Melissa Moody, a twenty-three-year-old who discovers she is pregnant. Melissa is sent into a tailspin by the discovery, not just because the pregnancy is a total surprise to her but because the only man she ever had sex with, her high school boyfriend Ronnie, died five years ago when they went to the prom. When Melissa shows up at Ronnie's parents's house, the family is as bewildered as Melissa, wondering if she is telling the truth and what it means if she is right. In the meantime, Ronnie's younger brother Philip is once again faced with living up to his older brother's legacy. Misha Stone, writing in Booklist, called the novel "a compulsively readable exploration of the ways in which lives can pivot on one horrible occurrence." In a review in the School Library Journal, Jamie Watson noted the author's "sharp, realistic character portrayal." A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote: "Yet while readers will enjoy traveling to the heart of the mystery, what they'll cherish most in this accomplished novel are its startling real characters."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, January 1, 2001, John Green, review of Boy Still Missing, p. 921; July, 2004, Misha Stone, review of Strange but True, p. 1820.

Cosmopolitan, August, 2004, Jennifer Benjamin, "Don't Miss this Amazing Read," interview with author, p. 222; July, 2005, Sara Bodnar, review of Strange but True, p. 224.

Entertainment Weekly, March 9, 2001, Daniel Fierman, review of Boy Still Missing, p. 76.

Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2004, review of Strange but True, p. 602.

Library Journal, April 1, 2001, Nancy Pearl, review of Boy Still Missing, p. 134.

New York Times Book Review, March 18, 2001, Peter Khoury, review of Boy Still Missing, p. 16.

People, March 12, 2001, Laura Jamison, review of Boy Still Missing, p. 43.

Publishers Weekly, January 29, 2001, review of Boy Still Missing, p. 62; July 5, 2004, review of Strange but True, p. 37, and Jeff Zaleski, "True but Strange: Author Found," interview with author, p. 38.

School Library Journal, March, 2005, Jamie Watson, review of Strange but True, p. 243.

Time, February 12, 2001, Walter Kirn, "Seven New Voices," p. 88.

Washington Post, March 18, 2001, Lydia Millet, "A Family Affair," p. T13.

ONLINE

Bookreporter.com,http://www.bookreporter.com/ (October 7, 2001), Jana Siciliano, review of Boy Still Missing.

BookSense.com,http://www.booksense.com/ (October 7, 2001), Linda M. Castellitto, "John Searles."

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